Dubai: Iran lashed out on Tuesday at Saudi accusations that the Islamic Republic was acting like “a colonising state”.

In a continuation of an exchange of harsh words, Tehran said that Saudi Arabia, not Iran, is destabilising the Middle East. An official in Tehran on Tuesday rejected claims from Riyadh that Iran is acting like a colonising state.

The comments from foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham come after Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir on Monday accused Iran of “meddling in the affairs” of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

“We wish that Iran would change its policies and stop meddling in the affairs of other countries in the region, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen,” Al Jubeir said at joint press briefing with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Riyadh.

“It is difficult to have positive relations” with Tehran, “when Saudi Arabia and its people are the target of continuous aggression” from the kingdom’s arch rival, said Al Jubeir.

Saudi Arabia supports rebel groups who are fighting to oust Assad in the Syrian conflict.

“We will make sure that we confront Iran’s actions and shall use all our political, economic and military powers to defend our territory and people,” he said.

He accused Iran of acting like a “colonising state” in Syria, and demanded it pull its fighters out of the country and stop supplying arms to President Bashar Al Assad.

Otherwise, “it will be difficult [for Iran] to play a role” in finding a solution for the conflict in Syria, he said.

Steinmeier, who visited Iran before Saudi Arabia, said it was “very difficult at the moment to really bridge the deep divide between Tehran and Riyadh”.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday in a joint news conference with Steinmeier that “Iran does not seek to eliminate Saudi Arabia but also will not let Saudi Arabia eliminate Iran from the region”.

Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been fraught since an uprising against Al Assad broke out in 2011.

Iran openly backs Al Assad and is also accused of supporting Al Houthi rebels who overran large parts of Yemen last year and early this year.

Relations soured further after Saudi Arabia’s decision to launch an air campaign in Yemen.

The deaths of at least 464 Iranian pilgrims in the recent Haj stampede in Mina and further Iranian military activity in Syria saw ties plunge again, with increasingly abrasive statements from both sides.

Afkham described Al Jubeir’s remarks — he had said the kingdom would use all its “political, economic and military powers” to defend itself — were “despicable, arrogant and non-diplomatic”.

- with inputs from agencies